Publishers

Building your customer base by adding value

December 15, 2020  |   Simon Burgess

Even for an industry that is used to dealing with disruption, the current volume of change facing publishers represents a significant strategic challenge. Building new revenue models is essential; however, these models must take into account the latest foundational changes in online advertising, with laws like the EU’s GDPR redefining what is permissible for data-driven targeting.

Increased focus on consent, alongside a move away from third-party cookies, has driven marketers to rethink how they build relationships with their audiences. This means that today’s ad buyers want to reach consumers based on known attributes that are actively supplied with permission, and advertisers are willing to pay a premium to reach their target audience.

Many publishers have been building these known audience bases successfully  through subscriptions, which puts them in a prime position to capitalise on advertisers’ requirements by connecting the audiences they’ve spent years developing a relationship with to the advertisers looking to reach them.

Gaining and activating authenticated users within a publisher’s environment is a golden opportunity to offer advertisers access to real individuals – not device IDs or proxies obtained through opaque means like fingerprinting. Indeed, leading subscription-driven publishers like The Financial Times have already shown how customer data can be used to deliver more highly-targeted ad campaigns.

In our latest piece of qualitative research, Building the Future of Publishing, we spoke with industry experts to understand what publishing’s future relationship with advertisers may look like. One of the key areas publishers highlighted as a primary focus is looking for creative ways to add value to the consumer experience and increase their ability to capture first-party audience data. 

The recent dramatic increase in traffic to media owners clearly demonstrates the desire for quality content, providing publishers with the opportunity to capitalise on this shift and gain the trust of their audience through high editorial standards. This is fundamental to creating a value exchange that encourages audience authentications. On top of this, publishers must ensure they have solutions in place to effectively and securely manage the consented data they receive, as this will further help to reinforce user trust. 

While the typical mechanism for user data acquisition through subscriptions is a registration wall, some publishers may see this as too intrusive for their respective audiences. Those that are afraid to ask users for profile details would do well to look at the success publications like The New York Times in the US and the Telegraph in the UK have had in incentivising people to create accounts. To be successful, publishers need to find the right balance and focus on creating effective value exchanges.

Here are three examples of how publishers are looking to address this, based on responses to our latest publisher survey:

  • Haymarket Automotive’s Chief of Revenue, Christopher Daniels, says his “known audience strategy” aims to move digital users from “inferred” to “known.” For some time now, both Haymarket and Dennis’ car brands have been looking beyond digital content to how user data can be used to drive ecommerce and other services, gaining an authenticated user when they are ready to research and buy a new car. But Daniels says he wants to acquire and augment these profiles earlier and more regularly through ancillary services that add value to consumers through their car ownership cycle, which would require sign-in.
  • The Guardian started testing optional user sign-ins in December 2019, clearly and openly stating its business case for data collection: in exchange for registering, users receive personalised advertising or marketing, which specifically helps keep the publication’s journalism free.
  • Reach Group has stated it will eschew the use of gated content to drive user sign-ups. “We are not putting titles behind a registration wall,” explains Chief Revenue Officer, Piers North. “It wouldn’t make any sense. We are not the FT [Financial Times].” Rather, he says titles with mass-market and regional audiences must creatively develop incentivised engagement touchpoints, such as privileges to comment on articles, follow journalists, subscribe to email newsletters, enter competitions and respond to polls.

While many publishers are starting to embrace the power of their user base to drive more effective partnerships with advertisers and marketers, the reality is that they are still determining which levers will work best when it comes to building first-party relationships. One thing the community agrees on is that media owners need to think creatively around what works for their specific audience and not be afraid of implementing different tactics, testing, and learning from the results. These learnings will be critical to helping publishers develop and drive their first-party data strategies forward in a world without cookies or device identifiers.